Critics are petitioning for President Macron to dismiss the ambassador.
Rabat – “France is a Muslim country,” French Ambassador to Sweden Etienne de Gonneville said on Sunday during an interview on the Swedish national channel SVT.
When asked if the murder of Samuel Paty and the rising tension between the leaders of Turkey and France will trigger a conflict between France and the Muslim world, the ambassador replied that France itself is a “Muslim country.”
“Islam is the second [largest] religion in France, we have anywhere between four million and eight million citizens who have a Muslim heritage,” he explained. “So the first Muslims I would like to listen to … are the French Muslims.”
De Gonneville’s comments did not sit well with some French public figures who are now petitioning for President Emmanuel Macron to terminate the ambassador’s service.
French politician Jean-Frederic Poisson shared a petition arguing that the ambassador’s “scandalous comments” will “arouse even more appetite on the part of the jihadists who have declared war on our country.”
De Gonneville’s remarks “are likely to ruin all the firm words you have made in recent days,” the petition said in an address to Macron, who took a vocal stand against “Islamists” both before and after Paty’s murder.
“We therefore urge you to declare clearly and frankly that France, whose soul, unity and public corpus have been forged by a history steeped in Judeo-Christian heritage, is not and cannot be … a Muslim country,” the petition states.
It then asks the president, whose rhetoric has stressed that secularism is a fundamental value of the French state, to dismiss Ambassador De Gonneville from his functions.
Muslims and immigrant communities have long reported facing discrimination in France, but tensions in the European country flared further in September, coinciding with the trial of suspects involved in the January 2015 shooting at the Charlie Hebdo headquarters.
The 2015 shooting sought to punish the satirical magazine for printing offensive caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad. To mark the beginning of the suspects’ trial on September 2, Charlie Hebdo reprinted the caricatures with the support of President Macron who also denounced “Islamic separatism” in France.
France has continued to use the Charlie Hebdo cartoons to rebuke “Islamists” and “radical Muslims” in the wake of the October 16 murder of Samuel Paty. An 18-year-old student named Abdoullah Anzorov beheaded Paty, a middle school teacher who used the Charlie Hebdo cartoons during a lesson on freedom of speech.
The systemic dissemination of the cartoons as well as reports of rising Islamophobia and racism prompted a boycott of French products in Muslim and Arab countries.